Pakistani actor and current megastar, Shaan Shahid's, upcoming action thriller film, Operation 021 has gained a lot of media attention as fans eagerly await its release on Eid-ul-Azha.

The film tells the story of an Afghani man (Ayub Khoso) and his Pakistani ally (Shaan), who collaborate in a plan to save both their countries - a plan that risks their lives and the lives of their families. The plan must be executed within 21 hours, and this premise gives the film its name.

In an email interview with Dawn.com, Shaan talks about his upcoming film, the emergence of Pakistani cinema, and why collaboration between India and Pakistan is vital for the growth of the regions film industries.


Question: What are your expectations from Operation 021?

SS: I expect we will have our own franchised characters in the not too distant future. I feel Pakistan is ready for a new era of films and 021 is one of the biggest mainstream films coming out this year. I expect it to do great in earning foreign exchange for Pakistan and creating a platform for Pakistani cinema internationally.

Question: Operation 021's Independence Day promo – just five words, “Welcome To Pakistan My Friend” have piqued curiosity amongst fans. Can you clue us in on the promo's message?

SS: It’s a great tag line from the final cut of the film. But you have to see the film to truly enjoy the caption. It’s superb.

 Photo Courtesy
Photo Courtesy 'Operation 021' Facebook Page

Question: Do you think people have higher expectations from you after the incredible success of Waar?

SS: Yes, that is the reason why I haven’t signed any other films after Waar; we waited for a year for our second film to come out.

What our filmmakers and artists need to understand is that over exposure will not work in films. Less sells more. People should wait for your product to come out. The leap from good to great is always a difficult one. It requires a lot of sacrifices – you have to say no to good, as it will always stop you from becoming great.

Question: You have played a very important role in the current revival of Pakistan’s cinema. Many new film directors are experimenting and releasing their films later this year. Your comments on this?

SS: I am looking forward to few of the flicks - they look very promising. Some are really good, but they need to be guided towards mainstream cinema. I truly believe the revival has to be with co-production – not with any other country for now, but within Karachi. The city holds the key to the revival of films.

At the moment, infrastructure planning and combined vision is lacking, and everybody has been making what they think will work. Right now we need more mainstream, big films, the same way we pushed the fashion industry, nationally and internationally. Parallel theatre, is great but for the financiers to come and invest, we need big numbers, big films, mainstream films – this feel is missing.

We need to have workshops together, as we have very highly qualified TV directors. The quality of TV dramas have been very good lately, and that is the reason they can’t seem to get out of their comfort zone.

Film, however, is a different medium altogether. We need to have a forum that includes all the main stakeholders from Karachi and Lahore to brainstorm, focus and create an infrastructure. Filmmakers, writers, directors, cameramen should all get together, as Lahore needs the future and Karachi needs the past.

Let’s work together to create a harmonious present and create a platform for our next generations. Somebody has to start. We need to plan for 10 years down the line through joint efforts in every field. Let’s lock our egos in the same safety deposits, roll up our sleeves and work together.

Question: Do you think our films are being promoted well? Any suggestions you might have?

SS: I believe we can do more. The media plays a pivotal role in creating a brand and all the multinational brands need to come in and support us as we will both get mileage from it. With their support, the producer will not have to worry or make budget cuts from the actual script in order to have a decent marketing budget. There is so much that can be done, not on an individual level but for the whole ark, as the bigger the pie, the bigger the cut for all stakeholders.

Then there is the problem of our national (non-existent) policy. Our government needs to create a policy that supports the film industry as no one will invest without one. Our embassies should support filmmakers and their products, and internationally support Pakistani products. This would promote the softer image of Pakistan. The world wants to see what we make so there is a lot of demand but no supply.

Question: Many Pakistani talents are now appearing in Bollywood films. What do you have to say about that? Do you think this would have an impact on Pakistan's film industry right now?

SS: Not really, as all the actors working in India are not mainstream film actors in Pakistan. People have different opinions about working in India. I somehow don’t agree with them as it hurts me to see our talent being used as second hand B-grade options. They are far better then any of the Imran Hashmis and Hameesh Rashmiyas. I would love to see any of our actors in a leading role like Dhoom 4, that would be a success story to write home about.

I don’t want them to follow what I do but I do expect them to respect my point of view just as I respect, but don’t agree, with theirs. Our actors undersell their talent. They deserve better roles and bigger productions.

Why can’t they get actors from anywhere else in the world, why Pakistan? It is because that is what Bollywood wants; a Pakistani label so they can be playing side-kicks. Every time we go to India we must carry Pakistan with us and demand equal opportunity to show our talents.

India doesn’t support Pakistani products, as Waar and 021 are not being released in India, but we seem to have no issue with that, as local media has ignored this completely. When foreign content was playing on the Pakistani TV channels everybody in the drama industry stood up with one voice and that changed the policy, so why can’t we do that for films?

Its really sad how we are all separated – we protect our dramas but not our films.

Question: Would you ever work in a Bollywood film? If yes, who would you like to work with and in what sort of roles. If no, then why not?

SS: When I said no to a project I was offered, it was not that I as an actor felt that I would not be able to pull of a negative character - but I questioned why they wanted a Pakistani actor to play the villain. They have plenty of actors to perform such a role.

You have to understand that they [Bollywood] buy our Pakistani labels, not our talent; this is the reason one of ours can never be a Krish or Singham or whatever, unless they think beyond this. Things will not work out as India is a film giant, and in order for it to grow bigger it needs to have a bigger heart.

Look how Hollywood works. They took actors from everywhere: Italians, Irish, British. For example, Chris Hemsworth is from Australia but working in Hollywood and the projects he does aren’t associated with where he comes from. Iconic American hero Superman doesn’t have blonde hair.

Bollywood needs to enter phase two, as it is growing and it needs more. Bollywood is doing to our actors what Hollywood does to Indian actors. They seem to be pretty cool about it, but it hurts to see the giants of Indian screens become ants on Hollywood screens.

If we work together we can be a very lucrative business as the cost of making a film in Pakistan is very low, our labour is very hard working and available at a low cost; its full of untapped stories and scripts and would be an amazing opportunity for any international filmmaker.

Bollywood and Lollywood need to grow together. We have so much to learn together and really, it is the responsibility of the artistic, intellectual individuals from both sides. But I guess they both are busy playing politics.

Look at the collaboration opportunities. India makes a lot of films but Pakistan is the gold mine of scripts – we have 20 years of war, and war has created the renaissance. If we don’t collaborate on equal terms we will never be able to live in harmony.

But then I see another gap apart from the LoC (line of control). It’s called lack of communication and refusal to create equal opportunities and I guess that is the reason we wanted our own country in the first place. By not supporting us, India is making a grave mistake. Pakistan has a growing film culture and infrastructure, and you have to open your gates of filmmaking knowledge to the entire East so we emerge as a greater force and start challenging the West.

The international eastern corporation – China, Pakistan, India, Iran and Afghanistan – should all come together for the cause of films and nothing else.

Let the politicians do politics, let the businessmen do business, but I request all the film fraternities of this region to make films together.